Norovirus outbreaks threaten schools, public spaces worldwide

by Connor Danik
Just as reported cases of this year’s flu are starting to die down, another contagious illness, the norovirus, threatens to increase absence rates. The norovirus is a group of related viruses that affects the stomach and intestines, causing rapid onset of vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, nausea and cramps.
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Although many with the virus mistake it for the flu, the two viruses are unrelated.
“Influenza (flu) and norovirus are two completely different illnesses.  Flu is generally characterized as an upper-respiratory infection with high fever, body aches and no intestinal symptoms,” said school nurse Lisa McNally. “Symptoms of norovirus are generally limited to the intestinal tract.  Neither illness is any fun, but influenza can potentially lead to more serious illness such as pneumonia.  Many deaths have been related to complications from the flu.”
This year’s strain of the norovirus is known as GII 4 Sydney and was first recorded in Australia in 2012. While the Centers for Disease Control have yet to compile data about cases in the United States this year, its wide and rapid spread around the world has led to warnings. One in five people in Scotland have contracted the virus, which sent Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth to the hospital on March 4.
The virus is not known to last more than one to two days and is usually not serious. However the virus can be severe for the elderly and people with serious health conditions. In recent years, the virus has become increasing dangerous for young children. It is estimated that one in six children will receive outpatient care for the norovirus.
“My body felt like it had been hit by a truck. There was no way for me to get comfortable enough to sleep,” said sophomore Francesca Arvizzigno, who had a stomach virus during the norovirus outbreak.
The virus can spread through direct contact with a contaminated person or object. Many outbreaks have also occurred in restaurants through food contamination. The virus is most likely to be contracted in long-term-care facilities, day-care centers, schools, and crowded areas.
Recently, norovirus outbreaks have been reported on several cruise lines.  The outbreaks began in December and have increased since. On the Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas cruise, more than 100 passengers and crew members had contracted the virus when the ship docked on March 8. Several ships from the cruise line Princess Cruises have reported norovirus outbreaks within the last several months.
Unlike the flu, the norovirus has no vaccine or treatment. However, there are many preventative measures.
“Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, particularly before eating.  The norovirus germ can live on surfaces for long periods of time.  At home, wipe bathroom countertops, phones, keyboards and doorknobs with antibacterial solutions,” said McNally. “Also, use a hand sanitizer after touching surfaces in public places.”